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Careful in the night

When I married Bandile, she knew it was possible that he would marry someone else. His father, Chief Lang’alitshoni had seven wives and all his betrothed brothers were in polygamous marriages. I was trained – … that’s not the word for it… groomed to accept it as a part of his culture and his mother taught me everything I needed to know on how to treat a second or third wife and the children they bear if he did end up taking any. I didn’t want him to do it but I mentally prepared myself for the moment… but I certainly wasn’t expecting him to take a second wife three months after he married me, or for that wife to be Thandeka, my best friend.

“UThandeka?” my mother screamed through the phone as soon as I told her, “Your Thandie… How?”

“I don’t know Ma,” I responded sniffling. I had been crying on the bathroom floor since Bandile told me about his plans to tell the family.

“I don’t know how or when this happened. He just told me he wants to marry her.”

“How do you feel mntanam?” mama softly asked.

“Betrayed.”

My mother listened to me weeping for a while before reminding me that this was what I had signed up for, I just sat there and wept.

I had signed up for marrying the man I had been with for six years who always told me that if he did end up taking another wife it would be for the purpose of entertaining family politics not this.

“At least nguThandie, not a stranger who could possibly hate you. Thandeka loves you,” mom continued.

“Mama she’s been running around with Bandile behind my back and you want me to be happy?”

“Don’t look at it like that.”

Someone knocked on the door.

“Can I come in?” Bandile asked already pushing the door open.

“I’ll call you back Ma.” I hung up then stood up and tried to fix myself so he wouldn’t see how much of a mess I was.

“I just heard everything you said and I guess we have to talk more about this,” Bandile said.

I just nodded and folded my arms.

“You always knew this could happen. I know you didn’t expect for it to happen this way but you knew…”

“I’m not going to do this with you Bandile,” I said with my eyes anchored on the floor.

“You know that the thought of you marrying or even looking at my best friend like that never even crossed my mind,” I looked at him and he looked away, “Did you marry me first out of pity?”

“What?” he looked at me, a wall of tears already forming in his eyes.

“Did you marry me first out of pity?” I repeated, “‘Poor Balu, let me marry her first because no one else will want her’” showers of tears had draped my face and I didn’t know it but I was yelling.

“Did you two laugh about me behind my back? She fucking helped you pick out my wedding ring…” I sunk to the floor, “I’m so stupid.”

“I know you’re heartbroken and I am sorry,” he said and it sounded sincere, “but this has to happen.”

He walked out of the bathroom and I stayed there and cried. I cried so hard my head started throbbing and I started vomiting, but I knew crying wouldn’t help.

I spent the rest of the day in bed thinking about how I wasn’t going to turn around to face him or even talk to him when he came to join me… but Bandile never came to bed and I knew he was with her.

 

He was having the same dream. This time he was in the family graveyard at night, with all the tombstones and patches of grass around them glistening under the moonlight. He was at peace as he always was around the bones of his ancestors and as he was about to sit down it happened.

The smell of roses suddenly lingered in the air and then he heard the sharp scream of a woman then he would hear the voice of his grandfather telling him to find her.

“Hamba Zolani!” his grandfather screamed, “If she dies, Ikamva lamaCethe litshabalala naye!”

But something always woke him as he was about to try to make sense of the situation.

Today it was his mother shaking him awake.

“NO!” he screamed.

“You’re shaking,” his mother said concernedly.

“I told you that this would happen sometimes!” He got up from his sleeping mat.

“I know, I know… I’m sorry. I was just worried about you,” his mother said standing up from the kneeling position she had taken when she tried to wake her son, “Do you have to sleep on this? We have so many beds and much better rooms!”

“Everything about the big house blocks out messages from ancestors,” he responded.

His mother rolled her eyes “ Well Bandile and Balu are coming down today.”

“So I’m guessing dad sent you here to tell me to wear proper clothes so I don’t scare them?”

“Your brother knows about your gift. You just don’t want the first time you meet Balu to be ab-“

“Say no more,” he said before expressing his exasperation with a sigh, “I won’t embarrass his chieftaincy.”

As soon as his mother left, he laid back down on his mat, hoping to finish his dream.

 

Thandiswa was waiting in the car when Bandile came to fetch Balu. She was sitting in the passenger seat wearing a doek and umbhaco as if she was already his wife.

“I’ll drive down in my own car,” Balu protested.

“Why are you being difficult Balungile?” Bandile said as he finished loading things in the boot.

“I’m not,” Balungile said walking away.

Bandile pounded the top of his car with a fist in intense frustration, closed the boot and got in the car.

“Is she not coming?” Thandie asked.

“She wants to drive down in her own car,” Bandile put on the seatbelt and started the car.

“Well at least we’ll have some privacy before sifike kowenu,” she put her hand on his thigh.

“I’m not really in the mood Thandie. This isn’t going the way I expected it to!”

“Oh come on baby, everything will be okay. Balu will get over herself,” she turned his face to face hers, “I missed you” she went in for a kiss and he retreated.

“Really? You spent the past few days with her and you won’t even give me a kiss?”

“I wasn’t here,” Bandile responded finally driving off.

“Then where were you?”

“I just needed to think.”

The drive was quieter than Thandie wanted it to be. She usually had felt like he couldn’t keep his hands off of her and all he couldn’t keep his hands off of now was his phone. She wondered if this was what he was like when he was with Balungile. Four months ago Balu had told her how she hoped he would stop texting all the time and do more things with her, she even expressed fear that he could be texting another woman, and Thandie listened to her complaints in glistening glee because she knew she was the woman Bandile was texting.

“Baby what’s wrong?” she finally asked Bandile when they were filling up at a filling station.

Bandile looked at her in bewilderment, “What do you mean?”

“You’re not talking, you keep banging the steering wheel and-“

“I’m just stressed Tee… have you heard anything from Balu?”

Tee… he was the only person who called her that.

“I told you she’s not talking to me,”Thandie said rolling her eyes, “You act like you’re the only who is getting hurt in this situation. Balu’s been my best friend since we were in pre-school.”

“I find it weird how you only ever remember that when I’m telling you I’m thinking about her.”

“As if you’re always thinking about her.”

“Heh Thandiswa…” Bandile said sternly, “don’t forget that the only reason I’m marrying you is because you’re pregnant.”

A wall of tears started to build in Thandiswa’s eyes.

“Don’t even start with that cry baby shit,” Bandile said preparing to drive out of the filling station and back on route to get to his home.

“Find out where Balungile is.”

Balu was pulling in to the same filling station as she needed to pee and had a chocolate craving she couldn’t ignore. She ran to the toilet and sat down without wiping it then the thought of germs that could possibly on the seat made her flip over and start vomiting again. She wiped herself, got dressed, flushed the toilet and walked out of the stall.

Her phone rang again – it was Thandie, she rejected the call and wash her hands and face at the sink.

“Get it together Balungile,” she told herself as she stared at her wet face in the mirror… Get it together.

The cars arrived within minutes of each other at Bandile’s home in rural Qumanco where seven huts, three two bedroom houses and a mansion were surrounded by a strong brick wall… A home worthy of belonging to a chief.

His nieces and nephews ran to them excitedly. They hugged their uncle Bandile and as soon as Balungile appeared they ran to her. As upset she was to be there, she gave them all hugs and smiled like nothing was wrong. They headed to the big hut, which Balu guessed was where the elders were waiting for them. The mood inside the hut was celebratory and even though Balu knew this was just the family being happy because their culture was being observed, she took it personally.

“Who would’ve thought that this kid – the boy who wanted the boys to protest against cultural circumcision would take a second wife?” his father said when everyone had settled down.

Everyone joined him in laughter except Balu who was walking around the rondavel with a tray of refreshments. Bandile stopped laughing as soon as he saw the expression on her face and he felt supremely disgusted in himself.

He had tried not to let things get to this point.

“You have to get rid of it,” he had told Thandie the day she told him she was pregnant. She had frantically texted him a thread of messages urging him to come to her apartment.

“Get rid of it?” Thandie repeated rhetorically, “That’s not happening.”

“Thandie I’m married, Balu can’t find out about this!”

“Had you forgotten about her when you got into bed with me?”

“That was a fucking mistake!” Bandile yelled slamming his phone against the wall.

“A mistake?” Thandie yelled, “The mistake was marrying Balu when you so obviously still wanted to be with me.”

Bandile hysterically laughed, “What?” his expression became more serious, “I have never been with you Thandiswa, and I have never even wanted to be with you!”

“Uzonditshata Bandile,” Thandie calmly said, “You’re going to marry me and this child will grow up in a proper home… or I will tell Balu that you were in bed with me the night you stood her up and she walked home by herself at night… remember that? Remember what happened?”

Bandile got ready to walk out.

“You stood her up and she was chased into an abandoned building by three guys who beat her till she was unconscious and then raped her.”

Bandile was knocked out of his flashback by the sound of his brother beating the tray out of Balu’s hands. Everyone was silent.

Balungile bent down to pick the broken pieces of glass up.

“I can smell the roses,” Zolani whispered with his eyes closed. He was shaking and even though it was a cool day, he started to sweat profusely.

“Gumede!” his father yelled at a guard, “Makasiwe kwigumbi lakhe lomntu!”

But when guards tried to grab Zolani by his arms he touched their hands and they knelt in front of him as if to praise him and seemed stuck in that position.

Ndiva igazi lamawethu lityhutyha kwi mithambo yomntu ongeloCethe

Libumba indoda, ikroti, umfo ungazu qhaqhatheka noba udamfuza kumbethe,” Zolani said in a voice so loud and majestic it almost sounded like a roar.

Balungile was so scared she tried to pick up the broken pieces of glass with haste so she could run out of there but she cut herself.

“What are you saying Zolani?” Chief Lang’alitshoni asked rolling his eyes.

“Someone in this house is pregnant with the future chief,” Zolani said opening his eyes.

“The future chief?” Thandie asked standing up, “I’m pregnant but I thought – “

Zolani bent down and grabbed Balu’s bleeding hand, “You…”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for your shoes to get covered in bloo-… wait, Thandie’s pregnant?” she looked like she was going to break down.

Zolani just kept his eyes on Thandi, “You’re the one carrying the future chief.”

Balu turned to face him with utter shock, “WHAT?” she looked back at everyone and everyone was looking at her- some smiling, some looking as shocked as she was.

“I’m not pregnant, “she said softly.

“Zolani is never wrong,” Bandile, who she hadn’t realised was smiling proudly, said.

Balu was still looking around in confusion when Zolani pulled her ear towards his mouth, “I need you to be careful at night,” he whispered, “I can smell the roses on you and I know it will be you.”

“What?” Balu whispered back.

“Be careful at night,” Zolani said then he walked out. The guards finally were able to stand up.

“Imagine that!” the chief yelled, “a new wife and two babies on the way!” the family cheered and women ululated.

For the rest of the day Balu was washing dishes with her sisters-in-law and the wives of Bandile’s brothers.

“I remember her being your maid-of-honour!” NoSakhele said scraping food off plates with a spoon, “You’re more kind than I ever will be. I would’ve removed her fake eyebrows with steel wool.”

All of the wives laughed.

“I cried so much when I found out. Kanti xa ndingekho umyeni wam and the girl I thought was my best friend bazenza umama no tata emzini wam!”

“Hayibo,” Samphiwa, Bandile’s sister exclaimed, “You mean to tell me they were doing it in your house?”

“I have no idea but I wouldn’t be shocked to find out they were. Andithi I had no idea they were even an item?” Balu responded.

“Why is she here now? Bandile came here to tell ooMalume that he wants to marry her not to make her a part of the family yet so why is she here?”

“I don’t know,” Balu shrugged.

“You have no reason to hate her, utshate uzazi ukuba utshatela kumzi wesiThembu,” Nokwanda, the wife of Bandile’s deceased brother responded.

“Are you telling me that you wouldn’t have been mad if Msimelelo had married on of your closest friends?” one of the other wives inquired.

“It doesn’t matter who else your husband marries, it will always hurt and you have no idea how the other wife feels about the situation. You have no idea what Thandie is going through!”

The other women yelled out insults to express how much they didn’t care about Thandie’s feelings.

“I treated Noluvo horribly,” Nokwanda continued, “so terribly that she killed herself and my husband followed her with a gunshot to his head all because of me.”

“All I’m saying is, you need to remember that you signed up for this.”

 

When Balu went to bed at night, Bandile was sitting on the edge of the bed in their bedroom waiting for her. She walked in and just started changing into her pyjamas.

“Balungile… none of my sisters want to sleep with Thandie in the hut she’s in. uTata says you’re supposed to do it,” Bandile said.

“Andizuyenza lonto Bandile.”

“Baby…”

“UBaby wakho nguThandiswa!” Balu yelled.

“No!”

“Well I wouldn’t know,” she sat down on the other side of the bed, “ we were together for six years… six years, and I had no idea that you were dating her the whole time!”

“We weren’t dating! We aren’t!”

“Then why are you marrying her?”

“I…” he stuttered, “I don’t want to talk about it…”

“Did you marry me out of pity Bandile?” she said softly.

“Why would you ask that?” he yelled back with tears in his eyes

“You just thought ‘poor Balu, who’s going to marry her If I don’t’?” she was starting to cry and she didn’t know it but he was crying too.

“Balungile… I love you.”

“Then why would you do this? WHY WOULD YOU IMPREGNATE AND MARRY HER?”

“We can hear you yelling from endlini enkulu!” Bandile’s mom yelled barging in, “What’s going on?”

“We’re sorry,” Bandile said seemingly frustrated.

His mother nodded, “Balu mntanam, lungisa kaloku uzoyo lalisa uThandie”

Balungile just wiped her eyes and walked out.

“Sleep it off,” his mother said before leaving Bandile to cry by himself in the bedroom.

The last time he had cried this much was the day he found out Balu had been raped.

“I was supposed to be there! I was supposed to protect her!” he had yelled on the phone when he called his brother.

“You had no idea this would happen Bandile, you can’t blame yourself.”

“I was in bed with her best friend!” he had yelled weeping, “She needed me and I wasn’t there because I was in bed with her best friend!”

“She needs you now,” his brother had said, “She needs you to be by her side and help her through this. Go be with her.”

 

When Balu walked into the hut Thandie was in, Thandie was laying on her side on one of the two beds, facing away from the door. She was in nothing but a burgundy lace thong with her butt looking perfectly rounded in the dim light of the candles she had set up. When she turned to face the door, the highlight on her cheek glistened and her face was beat to perfection. If Bandile had been the one to walk in, the sight would be arousing but Balu was disgusted.

“You really have no shame,” she said closing the door.

“What do I have to be ashamed of?” Thandie responded nonchalantly, “I thought you were Bandile… my fiancé.”

“I really thought we were-“

“Please don’t!”Thandie snapped, she got up and started ruffling through her travel bag “It’s bad enough I seemingly have to endure sharing this small space with you… yazi I was so sure you’d say no but here you are ruining things for me, yet again.”

“I’m the one ruining things for you? Thandiswa you’re the one trying to wiggle herself to my marriage!” Balu yelled.

Thandie turned to face Balu.

“Are you really here defending your joke of a marriage?” she asked, “Balungile, akakuthandi uBandile.”

Balu wanted to object to that statement. She wanted to be able to say anything at all to discredit what Thandie was saying but she couldn’t speak.

“He loves me. He has always loved me but you just had to take that away from me the way you’ve always taken stuff from me!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh don’t pretend not to know you took things from me Balungile!” Thandie said folding her arms , “In grade 5, you auditioned for the role of Juliet even though you knew I wanted it and sure enough… you were casted even though you made seven mistakes in your audition and I made none.”

“Are you being serious right-“

“LET ME FINISH!” Thandie hysterically screamed.

“In Grade 10, I spent five days preparing to audition for the solo in the choir’s performance at Founder’s Day and what did you do?”

“I wanted it too Th- ”

“You got the part!” Thandie started walking towards Balu, “when I got raped, no one believed me,” she started crying.

“I was called by all types of names and my own mother beat me black and blue for speaking out. I was chagrined!” they were now inches apart from one another.

“But when you got raped, you were supported. You got flowers, people sent you empowering messages and everyone was on your side.”

“Have you forgotten that I burnt Sifiso’s car when you told me about it? Have you forgotten how I tried to fight kids at school and got my ass beaten sometimes because I didn’t allow anyone to call you names?”

“That’s not the point! – things didn’t become that hard for you!”

“Why are you talking like I asked to get raped?” Balu snapped, “I was never participating in this competition you’re convinced we had!”

“Oh please Balungile, you enjoyed the attention! I wouldn’t be shocked if you enjoyed having all those men fighting to get between your legs,”

Balungile slapped her, Thandi staggered back and touched her cheek which was burning from the slap.

“I’m going to make you regret that.”

 

Zolani barged into Bandile’s room as he was turning off the light.

“Where is she?” He yelled.

“What’s going on?”

“Phendula man Bandile!” he yelled grabbing his brother by his top.

“She’s in the hut with Thandie! What the fuck is going on?”

Balu’s sharp scream pierced through the walls evoking a strong sense of fear in both Zolani and Bandile. They ran to the hut, ignoring their mother’s frantic inquiry about what was going on.

Thandie had already stabbed Balu on the shoulder when they arrived. Zolani ran towards Thandie to grab the knife from her hands and Bandile ran to Balu’s aid

“Get her out of here!” Zolani yelled and Thandie started stabbing him.

This time his mother poured water on him to wake him and when he stirred he immediately started checking his chest for stab wounds.

“I’ve been trying to get you to wake up for the past thirty minutes!” his mother yelled.

“Your brother is here with his friends and the girl he is going to marry. Clean yourself up and come join us!”

“You’ve already cleaned me up!” Zolani responded smiling.

“You had better clean yourself up or I will throw water on you in front of our guests,” his mother responded.

After cleaning up and getting into clothes that weren’t going to embarrass his father he went straight into the big hut and embraced his brother while everyone else was paying attention to their food.

“I thought you’d be in the traditional sangoma attire,” Bandile said.

“I was going to be, but you know how uTata is.”

“Well I’ve got someone I want you to meet,” Bandile said signalling at someone to come join them.

Bandile didn’t know it but Zolani already knew who she was.

“Hi,” she said smiling, “I have heard so much about you! My name is Balungile.”

“Hey, are you going to try umqombothi with me?” another face Zolani remembered said, interrupting the conversation.

“This is my friend, Thandie,” Balu said and Thandie let out a hand for Zolani to shake.

That’s when Zolani realized that even though his dreams hadn’t come true yet but they possibly could and he had no idea what to do.

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